Lamentations - Introduction
This collection of five carefully structured poems is unified by a common theme: lamentation over the fall of Jerusalem and its temple to the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E. Each poem except the last is an alphabetic acrostic.
With dirge-type rhythm, the mood is set by a number of unnamed voices. One voice comments on the condition of the city ( 1.1–11b ), while another is that of the city herself, whose personification heightens the pathos ( 1.11c–22 ). A third voice is that of an individual who, though crushed, maintains an attitude of hope (ch. 3 ). At times the voice speaks in the plural, as in ch. 5 . All these separate voices blend as one.
A very old tradition that Jeremiah was the author is based upon some similarities between his writings and Lamentations, but there are also profound differences; the poems have closer affinities to the national “laments,” such as Pss. 44, 74, 80 . The exact date after 587 and the place of composition are difficult to determine because the style and themes were used for many hundreds of years, even in Mesopotamian compositions antedating Hebrew literature.
Lamentations probably came to be used in the temple in liturgical mourning, a practice which continues in Jewish synagogue worship today.